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Toledo Legal News - News Steeped in history, Judge Jensen sits in a familiar courtroom


photo of Judge James JensenA sense of history pervades the office of Judge James Jensen. A windowsill holds a small collection of baseball memorabilia, including a small, thin metal wire catcher’s mask from the turn of the century that his uncle used to wear. Next to the window and against the wall sits the wooden podium JFK spoke from during a Toledo campaign stop. Above the podium hang immigration papers belonging to Judge Jensen’s grandparents. Judge Jensen himself sits behind a large, plain wooden desk. His voice is low and soft and to hear him clearly as he talks about the history of the Lucas County Courthouse requires leaning in some. It’s well worth it however, as Judge Jensen is intimately familiar with the building and knows all of its interesting little secrets, like that horse hair, which used to be used as a bonding agent, was discovered in the courthouse’s molding during renovations. While history is an interest for him in general, the Judge is especially intrigued by the history of Lucas County and it’s courthouse, which is where he began his legal career.

In the late 1960’s, while taking night classes at University of Toledo College of Law, Judge Jensen served as a bailiff to Judge Walinski in the very courtroom in which he now presides. After graduating law school in 1969, Judge Jensen began working as a general practice attorney in the law firm of Bowman, Able, Raitc & Cox. “It was right across the street (from the Lucas County Courthouse), in 416 N. Erie,” he recalled. “It was a small firm, there were six of us. Four partners and two associates.”

After six years at Bowman, Able, Raitc & Cox doing everything from collections, traffic, criminal defense, probate, real estate, domestic relations and juvenile defense work, Judge Jensen left the law firm to join the United States Attorney’s Office in Toledo, where he would serve as the Assistant U.S. Attorney until the end of the 1980’s. In September of 1987 he left Toledo for a year to work in Washington D.C. as the Assistant Director of the A.G. Advocacy Institute, a learning program that teaches trial techniques to new and upcoming attorneys. After a memorable year in D.C., which included running into a clutch of Oliver North supporters chanting, “Ollie, Ollie, he’s our man!” and meeting a young John F. Kennedy Jr., who was an intern at the Advocacy Institute at the time, Judge Jensen returned to Toledo and took a position with the law firm of Spengler Nathanson and stayed there until being appointed to the Lucas County Common Pleas bench in 1995.

As the judge of a court of general jurisdiction, Judge Jensen deals with a wide range of legal issues, both civil and criminal. It is not uncommon for Judge Jensen to start his day with a medical malpractice case, and then move on to deliberating on which States’ laws should apply to out-of-state workers injured in Ohio only to turn around and decide on the residency requirements of Toledo police officers and finally finish off his day ruling on temporary protection orders. Additionally, his caseload, which increases every year, can contain cases as simple as mediating between the frustrated parties of a fender-bender or as complex and harrowing as his first death penalty case involving a jury, in which the defendant was an original co-defendant in the commonly known “Buried Alive” case. Judge Jensen presides over a courtroom with a large and complex caseload, but his goal in each case is the same, “I want everybody that comes in this courtroom to feel that they were treated fairly. That doesn’t mean they like the decision, but I hope they walk out of this courtroom feeling that they were given a fair opportunity to argue their case and feel that I gave them the attention their case deserved.”

On top of the regular workload that comes with being the judge of a busy courtroom, during his time on the bench, Jensen has also served as the president of the Toledo chapter of TASC, a national drug treatment program and, along with Judge Franks, was a volunteer judge for Drug Court, a Toledo-area program which offered drug offenders probation and community control rather than prison time on the condition that they meet with Judge Jensen or Franks every other week. Judge Jensen volunteered his time to Drug Court for eight years until the program ended in 2006.

Work has never absorbed all of Judge Jensen’s time however. For 20 years he found the time teach at his alma mater, the University of Toledo College of Law in the legal assistant program. He has also actively participated in several different bar associations, such as the Ohio Bar Association, the Thurgood Marshal Bar Association and, most notably, the Toledo Bar Association, where he presided as president from 1998 to 1999. During that same time, Jensen was also the president of the Morrison Waite Inns of Court, an organization named after the only Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to come from Toledo. The Morrison Waite Inns of Court mentors young and upcoming lawyers and students and the combined responsibilities of Judge Jensen’s duties as a judge and president of two different legal organizations made for, “one hectic year.”

Additionally, Jensen has been a Rotary member and, while still in private practice, sat on the board of directors and trustees of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. After becoming a judge, Jensen moved off the board and became a Wish Grantor.

When he can find the time to relax, Judge Jensen heads out to the links for a round of golf. Although he played golf as a young child, he gradually gave the sport up as the requirements of family and work continued to nibble away at his already limited time. However, a friend brought him back to the sport. “If I can’t do something well, I just don’t really seem to enjoy it. And golf is a difficult sport. Then, Judge (Steven) Yarborough talked me into trying it again. I told him, ‘I’ll give you three years, and if I can’t play it decently, then that’s it.’ That was about eight years ago and last year I hit my first hole-in-one.”

He is also passionate about reading, particularly political and presidential biographies. He makes it a particular point to study the history of both the Supreme Court of America and, of course, the Lucas County Courthouse with it’s horse-hair tunnel and courtroom where Judge Jensen has been both a bailiff and a judge. “I started out in law school as a bailiff to Judge Walinski in this very courtroom where I’m now a judge. So I’ve really gone 360 degrees around.”

Michael A. Davisson, Toledo Legal News Staff Writer

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